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Mass crimes against humanity and genocides

Definitions of the term "genocide."
United Nations Conventions on genocide

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Meaning of the term "Genocide:"

The word "Genocide" was derived from:
bullet"genos," which is Greek for "race" or "tribe"; 
bullet"cide," which is Latin for "killing." 

It has been defined as the "systematic destruction by a government of a racial, religious, or ethnic group." 1 

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Early history of the term:

In 1933, Jurist Raphael Lemkin submitted a proposal the International Conference for Unification of Criminal Law that would have made the destruction of racial, religious or social groups a crime under international law. Lemkin is believed to have been the first person to use of the term "genocide" in 1944. At that time, he was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and had written a book about the Nazi Holocaust. 2

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The United Nations' resolution of 1946:

The Nazi Holocaust of Jews, Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and other groups in the early 1940s prompted the United Nations' General Assembly to pass a resolution on 1946-DEC-12 to combat future genocides. It defined the term "genocide" in its preamble. The full text of the resolution is:

"Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings; such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of mankind, results in great losses to humanity in the form of cultural and other contributions represented by these human groups, and is contrary to moral law and to the spirit and aims of the United Nations.

Many instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred when racial, religious, political, and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part.

The punishment of the crime of genocide is a matter of international concern.

The General Assembly, therefore,

Affirms that genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices - whether private individuals, public officials or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds --are punishable;

Invites the Member States to enact the necessary legislation for the prevention and punishment of this crime;

Recommends that international co-operation be organized between States with a view to facilitating the speedy prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, and, to this end,

Requests the Economic and Social Council to undertake the necessary studies, with a view to drawing up a draft convention on the crime of genocide to be submitted to the next regular session of the General Assembly." 3

The UN Economic and Social Council crafted the a convention on Genocide, which is described below.

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The United Nations Genocide convention of 1948

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) was approved by the General Assembly resolution 260 A (III).  4

The preamble to the convention noted that that: "...Genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations, and condemned by the civilized world."

The first three articles state:

bullet"Article 1: The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish. "
bullet"Article 2: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
bullet(a) Killing members of the group;
bullet(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
bullet(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
bullet(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
bullet(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
bullet"Article 3: The following acts shall be punishable:
bullet(a) Genocide;
bullet(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
bullet(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
bullet(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
bullet(e) Complicity in genocide."

A major deficiency in this convention is that it deals primarily with preventing the systematic murder of groups of people, as in the Nazi Holocaust. The convention would not cover the many instances where governments have destroyed, or attempted to destroy, the culture of a group, while allowing its members to survive. Consider:

bulletThe oppression of Buddhists in Tibet by the government of China.
bulletThe destruction of the culture of indigenous tribes in Brazil, Paraguay, other South American countries, and Australia.
bulletPast attempts to destroy the culture of Native peoples by the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada.
bulletThe ongoing destruction of the culture of the Innu, the aboriginal people in northeastern Quebec and Labrador, Canada.

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Implementation of the Convention:

Dates concerning the Convention of significance to North Americans are:

bulletApproved by the General Assembly: 1948-DEC-9.
bulletSigned by the U.S. two days later, on 1948-DEC-11.
bulletEarly 1949: Submitted to the Senate by President Truman for ratification.
bulletSigned by Canada: 1949-NOV-28.
bulletEntered into force internationally: 1951-JAN-12.
bulletRatified by Canada: 1952-SEP-3.

The Genocide Convention Implementation Act was passed by the Senate in 1986-FEB-11. This makes genocide a criminal act under a U.S. federal law where "the offense is committed within the United States," or "the alleged offender is a national of the United States." It is commonly referred to as the Proxmire Act because of its sponsor and long-term promoter, Senator William Proxmire (1915-) (D, WI). More details.

bulletImplemented by President Reagan on 1988-NOV-25.

It took four decades to ratify the convention. By that time, 95 other nations had already done so. However, the U.S. government drastically weakened the effect of the convention by refusing to accept its Article IX. Consent from the U.S. government is required before a dispute can be referred to the International Court of Justice.

Dr. William Korey, director for international policy research for B'nai B'rith International, wrote about the struggle to get the treaty ratified. Part of the problem focused on the treaty's reference to genocide "in whole or in part."  Korey wrote: "Fears were apparent in various segregationist circles that the reference to 'in part' might be applied to a limited form of race violence, such as lynchings." 7 According to the Associated Press, "The phrase 'mental harm' also raised concerns. Other critics said the United States might be embarrassed by an international show trial based on alleged atrocities against American Indians in the 19th century." 5

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Applications of the Genocide Convention in North America:

There does not seem to have been been a charge to date made against an alleged North American perpetrator, either under the U.N. Convention or the U.S. federal Proxmire Act.

We are aware of only a few instances in North America during the decade where individuals appear to have violated this convention. None have actually committed genocide. However, they may be interpreted as violating Article 3 (b) of the Proxmire Act by having incited others to commit genocide:

bulletThere have been two instances where conservative Christian clergy have been reported as advocating the extermination of Wiccans in the U.S. These were separate, unrelated events. One Baptist minister recommended that the U.S. Army napalm Wiccans.
bulletThere are a few conservative Christian groups in the U.S. who advocate the biblical standard in Leviticus 20:13 which calls for the death penalty of sexually active gays and lesbians. This would be a tough case to prosecute under the Proxmire Act because it is restricted to cases involving actual genocide against a "national, ethnic, racial, or religious group." Gays and lesbians do not neatly fit into any of those categories. Trying to convince a court that homosexuals form an ethnic group would be a stretch.

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  1. "Genocide," at: http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/ 
  2.  Raphael Lemkin, "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe," (1944), Page 79.
  3. "United National General Assembly Resolution, 1946: 96 (I).   The Crime of Genocide," at: http://www.armenian-genocide.org/
  4. "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at:  http://www.unhchr.ch/
  5. Lawrence Knutson, "Reagan Signature on Ratification Ends 40-Year Battle," Associated Press, 1988-NOV-5, at: http://www.answerbus.com/
  6. Sharon Johnston, "The Genocide of Native Americans: A sociological view," at: http://isis.csuhayward.edu/
  7. S.D. Stein, "Genocide: Definitions and Controversies," at: http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/
  8. Rony Blum et al., " 'Ethnic cleansing' bleaches the atrocities of genocide," The European Journal of Public Health, 2007-MAY-18. Abstract available at: http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/ckm011v1 .

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Site navigation: Home page > Laws & religionGenocide > here

or: Home page > Religious violence Genocide > here

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Copyright © 2001 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JAN-1
Latest update: 2006-AUG-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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